Roy Ashburn and Mick Gleason have built distinct personas as they vie for voter support across the diverse stretches of Kern County represented by the 1st District Kern County supervisor.
Gleason paints himself as the military veteran, an outsider with copious leadership experience from his time as commanding officer at China Lake Naval Air Weapon Station and no interest in a long-term career in politics.
"I've led men. I've led men in combat. I don't understand management as well as I understand leadership," Gleason told The Californian's editorial board Thursday.
Ashburn's place in Kern County's political landscape was built up over nearly three decades as he moved from being an 18-year-old field representative for 1st District Supervisor LeRoy M. Jackson to a staffer for Rep. Bill Thomas to his own 12-year run as 1st District supervisor and more than a decade as an assemblyman and state senator representing the county.
"It's safe to say I know every inch of the 1st District," Ashburn said. "With three new supervisors (joining the board), my experience both at the county level and in Sacramento will serve the people of the 1st District well."
But Gleason paints Ashburn's strength as his weakness, labelling him a "career politician."
"I'm not building something so I can move from seat to seat," Gleason said.
Ashburn counters that he's motivated to use the knowledge he's acquired to continue serving 1st District residents.
"There is a big difference between being an elected official and being a leader," he said. Ashburn argues he's the only candidate who has been both.
The two men have laid out distinct positions on a number of critical issues in the district -- from the military to air quality.
One of their biggest disagreements is over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plans to remediate the Isabella Lake dam, which has been found to be seeping water and sits on an active earthquake fault.
The plan to fix the dam involves increasing the height of the dam and the size of the spillway that dumps water from Isabella Lake into the Kern River below the dam.
Ashburn is demanding an independent review of the Corps' findings and plans. The plan would disrupt lives in the Kern River Valley for 10 years and could wound the area's recreation industry so badly, "we may never get it back," Ashburn said.
He downplayed the ability of any spillway, of any size, to handle the destruction that could be caused by the once-in-10,000-year flood the Corps is basing its designs on.
Gleason said the community needs to understand what the Corps is doing and push for ways to minimize impacts to the Kern River Valley. But stopping the process now, he argues, is not a good idea.
The Corps has new technology and it understands what it is doing, Gleason said.
"Any responsible government needs to take proactive action," he said, noting that Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, supports his campaign and plans to follow dam remediation efforts closely.
On the issue of the San Joaquin Valley's poor air quality and the regulations designed to solve the problem, the two men are much closer together.
"We need to do whatever we can to try to improve the quality of the air we breathe," Gleason said.
But much of Kern County's air problems are created by the geography of the region, he said. Nothing that Kern County can do on its own can completely solve the problem, Gleason said.
There needs to be effective regulations of air quality, Gleason said, but he will not support an increase in regulations unless it is proven to work and certain that it is needed.
Ashburn agreed that the mountains and atmospheric inversion layer over the valley mean the valley is always going to face an extreme challenge to meet federal air quality standards that fail to take western Kern County's unique circumstances into account.
"The solution on air quality is really to be found in new technology and science," he said.
But the promotion of new technology through regulation must be done in a way that lets the public and industry adapt to the changes, Ashburn said.
But Gleason and Ashburn disagreed strongly on which of them was best suited to deal effectively with planned federal cuts to military spending through a Base Realignment and Closure process or BRAC.
Gleason said his experience as a naval aviator and base commander, his connections inside the military, as well as his post-retirement participation with military support groups, lend him a strong resume.
Ashburn said he was involved in advocating for protection of Kern County's military bases before the BRAC Commission during the last round of cuts.
Gleason, because he was serving in the military, couldn't take a direct role in those talks.
"When the BRAC Commission came to California, he couldn't be there," Ashburn said. "I'm the one who has the experience of going through a BRAC and speaking before the BRAC commission."
Gleason said he did the day-to-day implementation of BRAC at China Lake during that time and saw plenty of elected leaders. But "not once" did he see Ashburn, he said.
Five of six of the most notable voters in the 1st District -- those who battled Gleason and Ashburn in the primary -- have sided with Ashburn and his experience over Gleason and his promise of a fresh perspective.
For some it was a tough decision.
"In the primary, I was the candidate most critical of Roy Ashburn in the public forums. Not because we differed on our views, but because I was running on a 'People not Politics' platform, and Roy is a career politician," Heidi Carter-Escudero said in her written endorsement of Ashburn.
But she stated that Ashburn worked hard in the primary, never shied away from a tough question and was humbled by his failure to sweep to an easy win in the primary. Gleason's military service and work in Ridgecrest are impressive, she argued, but he faces a steep learning curve to understand not only the needs of the whole 1st District but the basic issues of county government.
"I believe the man that is ready to work hard for the entire 1st District, and the man with the energy to do it, is the man who has already had the job -- Roy Ashburn," Carter-Escudero wrote.
Deborah Hess, Marshall "Chip" Holloway, Sam Ramirez and third-place finisher Daures Stephens have also thrown their support behind Ashburn.
Fifth-place finisher Dave Freeland is backing Gleason.
He said he's known Ashburn for 30 years and counts him as a friend, but he's "been at the public trough for many, many years."
"Our political process, to remain healthy, needs new blood. Mick's that -- new blood," Freeland said. "I think more people are going to go for Mick. When I knocked on doors in the Kern River Valley, people said they wanted new blood."
Ashburn supporters rejected the idea that someone would be better in office just because they haven't been a politician.
Delano City Councilman Sam Ramirez said he was impressed by Ashburn's engagement during the primary.
"I thought I worked extremely hard. Everywhere I went, Roy was there, too," Ramirez said. "Mick, being a first-time candidate, there's a lot he needs to get up to speed on. Many elected officials need to pay their dues."
Ramirez said he is now out on the streets walking to support Ashburn's campaign.
And Hess said Ashburn has taken the time to show commitment to the various segments of the district and that will be what sways her area his way.
"He has experience with the Kern River Valley. He's a known. Mick is an unknown," Hess said. "Roy has spent a lot of time up here re-connecting with people. He is always sensitive and ready to take care of the needs of the valley. And I think he carries that throughout the whole district."
One major figure in the 1st District hasn't taken sides.
Retiring 1st District Supervisor Jon McQuiston, an independent with strong connections to Ridgecrest and the military, who has represented the district for 16 years, said he has not yet decided whether he will publicly support either man.